Almost every aspect of the Connected Educators movement energizes and motivates me. The sharing of resources and experiences, the generous spirit towards strangers, the collective desire to improve the entire system: all of these characteristics make it a pleasure to interact with fellow teachers and administrators from all over the country (and overseas). Whether just starting out in their careers or veterans of 30+ school years, these fine folks consistently impress me with their smarts and insight.
But there is one trend in the Twitterverse that is ruining the joy of all this connecting. I’m refering to the glib aphorisms that are transmitted via digital “posters,” attached to tweets, and then spread like wildfires through the assorted hashtags used by edchatters. These saccharine, feel-good, trite, quasi-haiku are nauseating. They reduce the goals and challenges of teaching to a sentence or two, and in the process dumb-down our very intellectually rich profession and turn it into gooey motivational drivel.
One that’s going around right now says: “I don’t teach curriculum. I teach kids. And I love every minute of it.” This statement has its heart in the right place, as almost all of these posterized maxims do. But it’s stupid. The verb “to teach” can take as its object both the material that is being taught and the recipient of the teaching. In reality teachers do both: we teach the curriculum and we teach the students — at the same time! Most of us enjoy both, too. This poster also wags the finger of judgment at all of the wrong-headed teachers out there who love math or American history but hate kids. Mind you, I’ve never actually met any of those teachers.
Another poster reads: “Everyone has a little hero in them / Our job as educators is to help this hero find its way[.]” Is that our job? I don’t believe myself to be in the hero-making business. I’d be perfectly satisfied if my students grew up to be knowledgable, moral, and happy. They don’t need to be heroic. In fact I’d rather teach them the value of humility. I’m struck by this poster’s contrast to the Quaker belief, “There is that of God in everyone.” Those of us who teach at Friends schools live by that creed, but that doesn’t mean I want to stick it on a poster and tweet it. Having that of God within you means that you have value and dignity, and you have the potential to do good. (At least that’s how I see it.) I am happy if my former students live humbly, pursuing their interests and their dreams as they see fit. They don’t need to be heroes to prove their worth to society.
The folks at the College Board posterized this statement and tweeted it out: “As I look back on my life, I realize that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better.” That’s a charming sentiment, and it’s pleasant that the makers of AP exams are tweeting it out right as students are learning about whether or not they were accepted by elite colleges and universities. Maybe it would be less completely covered in slime if it wasn’t sent by a company whose business is so directly intertwined with crushing the dreams of young people. As for the actual argument of the quotation, it is a good habit of mind to look at life’s setbacks in this fashion. On the other hand, life is full of actual, material setbacks that do affect us adversely. You can’t prove a counter-factual, so how do I know that getting rejected by my first choice college was actually a good thing? If you are rejected for the clinical trial of an experimental cancer drug that might extend your life, I don’t see a lot of upside.
One last poster: “Teachers plant seeds that grow forever.” Alright, alright. I like that one. It’s a lovely metaphor, and it’s true.
I might look more kindly on the creators of these posters if I didn’t have suspicions about their motives. The posters get retweeted and passed around more virulantly than ebola, so producing a popular one is a cheap ticket for the Twitter-fame Express. More followers! Look at me — I’m a “thought leader”! I’m more impressed by the educational researchers who post links to their data-rich, 10,000-word blog posts. Sure, their arguments won’t fit on a Post-It, and they don’t look great tacked to the wall of a classroom or faculty lounge, but they elevate the discourse instead of dumbing it down.